NATIONAL WOMEN’S FOOTBALL LEAGUE
I played for the Toledo Troopers, one of the first teams in the National Women’s Football League in 1971, 1972 and part of 1973, until I was injured. I sustained a spiral fracture of the fibula in my right leg.
I had never played football in my life. I was a fan, watched football and greatly appreciated Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins. I have been an athlete all my life, but as a girl, I didn’t have much opportunity. I swam competitively, did gymnastics, which we called acrobatics and played basketball. I was educated at parochial schools in Toledo Ohio and graduated from St. Ursula Academy– an all girls high school. My favorite subject was gym class. They called me a ‘Tomboy’.
I was a student at the University of Toledo in Life Sciences (Biology), pre-med curriculum. When I heard that there was a football team starting; I tried out. There were at least 40, maybe 50 women at the tryouts. 25 of us made the team. We practiced almost every day for over two hours. It was grueling but I got in great shape. I loved the sled.
When the Toledo Troopers first started, there were six teams in the League, all around the Great Lakes area. We traveled in a bus. I remember one time when we were leaving the bus some one called us a “Motley Crew”. We weren’t big on fashion…we had a game to play. We were a team.
I was a full-time student in sciences at the University, a single mom, on welfare and going to school on a Pell grant. I was determined. Football practice was a relief from the stress, studying and feeling of responsibility. I greatly enjoyed the competitiveness in a team-oriented atmosphere. There is nothing like a team that works together to accomplish a goal. In our case, we won. Being the best we could be and helping teammates to do the same was the main objective. The camaraderie and teamwork are the things I remember most and where my heart is centered.
At the time, there were no girls’ sports sanctioned in college. Title IX passed in 1972. It wasn’t effective until 1978. At the time I was playing football, I had no idea about any of this. I just wanted to play football-real football, with full gear and able to “knock heads”.
Although I played halfback, I was second string. As a middle linebacker I started every game. I loved it. Being quick and agile is an asset. Today, I laugh and say I was a terrific line backer because I have such a low center of gravity.
My number was 34 and I was a good linebacker. I remember a time in New York when I intercepted a pass and ran 37 yards for a touchdown. My teammates picked me up and carried me to the center of the field. The crowd was cheering. I’ll never forget it. We won the game.
As I look back on this experience, I realize that I lived at a time where massive changes in mind-set and legal status were emerging. I was just trying to survive.
When I graduated from college the Affirmative Action program was in effect. I had graduated with a Bachelor of Science, cum laude and was offered a job with Owens Corning Fiberglas in the technical division. This company had never hired a woman, except for secretarial and support jobs. This was 1975. The world was changing.
Owens Corning Fiberglas held a 1976 Fiberglas Fitness Festival at the Cooper Ranch in Texas. 20 athlete employees were invited to compete. I was the only woman. We were divvied up into relay teams. We competed in swimming, obstacle course events and running. Running through a four foot diameter pipe was a hoot. I’m 5’3” and a middle linebacker. I won that relay. My teammates were more competitive than cooperative. But, after winning or placing in my assigned “legs” of the relay and gaining points for our team, there was a shift in attitude. What I remember most is that Don Shula was the keynote speaker at the awards banquet. He called me up on stage. There’s nothing like being recognized by your hero.
The Toledo Troopers are now known as the winningest football team in history. A well-known director, Brett Leonard is making a movie. The movie is titled, PERFECT SEASON. That’s because the Toledo troopers never lost a game from 1971 to 1978. http://perfectseasonthemovie.com
I haven’t read the script. The co-author is Guy Stout, who is the son of our coach, Bill Stout. My sense is that the movie could be focused on the coach, and his commitment to creating a winning team out of a motley crew. The star of our team, Linda Jefferson, one of only four women to be inducted into the American Football Association Hall of Fame was amazing. I expect we’ll see her in the spotlight. She joined the Toledo Troopers in 1972.Undoubtedly, the societal focus of the movie will be on Title IX, which required colleges and universities to provide equal opportunities for Athletic scholarships. This year, 2014, a friend’s daughter received an athletic scholarship in track at Georgia Tech. Wow!
Labor Day 2013, there was a kick off for the movie and a reunion for the Toledo Troopers. This was the first time I had gone back to Toledo after being transferred to Tampa Florida by Owens Corning Fiberglas. I met up with old teammates and connected with my best childhood friend. I was saddened to learn that our coach, Bill Stout, and assistant coach, Jim Wright had died.
Because the movie kick-off event was held at the Maumee River Yacht Club in Toledo, and I belong to the Davis Island Yacht Club in Tampa, I exchanged Club Burgees with one of their former Commodores. There is an article and photos in the DIYC Log October 2013.
All of the team members had their pictures taken with the director, Brett Leonard and the photos are on Facebook.
(photo number 31 of 42 photos taken with Director at the Perfect Season Kickoff at Maumee River Yacht Club in Toledo over Labor Day weekend 2013)
There’s a Toledo Troopers team picture on the PERFECT SEASON website. In the team photo, I’m number 34.